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PAS’s slim victory in Manik Urai

Mohd Fauzi Abdullah (with pink tag) and other PAS leaders celebrating their narrow win

TALKING to reporters after PAS candidate Mohd Fauzi Abdullah was officially announced as the victor in the Manik Urai by-election, PAS treasurer and Kuala Krai Member of Parliament Dr Hatta Ramli quoted former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

“As Mahathir said, ‘A win is still a win’,” Hatta quipped. “But now we will need to have a post-mortem, to find out why we didn’t do better.”

During the campaigning, it was believed that a PAS win in Manik Urai was inevitable, even though the margin of victory was an open question. However, that the Islamist party only scraped through with a mere 65-vote majority has been a crude jolt, especially since it had declared victory earlier in the evening. PAS had expected a majority in excess of 2,000 votes in what was considered its stronghold.

In the end, PAS only gained 5,348 votes. The Barisan Nasional (BN) candidate, Tuan Aziz Tuan Mat, garnered 5,283 votes. The federal ruling coalition took five out of the constituency’s nine polling districts, including the PAS stronghold of Manik Urai Lama.

Positive for BN

“This would be the first positive sign for the BN since March 2008, at least in Peninsular Malaysia,” political analyst Ong Kian Ming tells The Nut Graph.

The BN has lost all six by-elections in Peninsular Malaysia this year, including this one. Manik Urai is the closest it has come to an almost-win.

“It would be interpreted as the first step in which the BN is taking to regain the electoral ground,” Ong adds.

“Umno can claim a moral victory,” Monash University Malaysia political scientist Prof James Chin agrees, adding that the Manik Urai results proved that Umno was, once again, a formidable opponent.

The BN has already begun using the bragging rights it gained in the Manik Urai fight. Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin, in his Twitter account, claimed: “BN posts gains in ALL young voter streams. Ergo shift in young voters to BN.”

If the under-40s of Manik Urai did indeed vote for the BN, Ong mulls, “it could be a sign that the BN is slowly regaining some of the youth support it lost in the 2008 general election.”

Good for PR

Ong has previously argued that a PAS setback could be good for the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) coalition.

“It would be a stark reminder to PAS members that there is no escaping the reality that Umno is their main political adversary,” Ong had written.

Mohd Fauzi shaking hands with party supporters

The Manik Urai by-election campaign coalesced around three main issues: oil royalties that Putrajaya allegedly owes Kelantan; a bevy of outraged fishmongers; and the mysterious absence and subsequent appearance of PAS deputy president Nasharuddin Mat Isa.

The last of the three issues is of the most interest to wider Malaysia, as it really concerns the possibility of a unity government between PAS and Umno.

Nasharuddin has come to represent the faction within PAS that is open to having so-called “unity talks” with arch-rival Umno in the name of Malay-Muslim solidarity. This openness — and Nasharuddin himself — was denounced by PAS spiritual leader Datuk Nik Aziz Nik Mat.

Nasharuddin was scarce during the campaigning, with most of the media noting his absence on nomination day. This, along with the absence of posters depicting PAS president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang in the first days of the campaigning, fuelled speculation that there was a growing rift within the party.

“[PAS losing ground] would put a stop to the unity talks and would shake [the PR] out of its complacency,” Ong reiterates.

“More pressure will be put on Nasharuddin and Hadi, since some people would blame the unity talks for contributing to the reduced majority,” he adds.


Other analysts disagree. Bridget Welsh, a political scientist attached to Singapore Management University, has been following the Manik Urai race closely. She opines that PAS’s underperformance in the by-election would strengthen those in the Islamist party who would welcome cooperation with Umno.

“It is potentially very divisive. [PAS’s setbacks] may be played up by the Terengganu [Umno-friendly] faction as proof that the party needs unity talks with Umno to retain the Malay vote,” Welsh tells The Nut Graph.

The Manik Urai campaign was carried largely on the charisma and leadership of Nik Aziz. The Kelantan menteri besar delivered speeches and visited voters practically every day. His iconic face was plastered on party banners and posters throughout the constituency.

“If there had been a landslide victory, that would have meant a lot of people support Tok Guru (Nik Aziz) and what he stands for, such as a stronger opposition and social justice,” Welsh explains.

Conversely, therefore, the votes against PAS in Manik Urai may be seen as a protest against the Kelantan menteri besar, the moderation he stands for, and his rejection of an alliance with Umno to maintain Malay supremacy.

Welsh also attributes the BN’s gains in Manik Urai to Umno rhetoric that played to Malay Malaysian insecurity. “There was a below-ground campaign that was meant to play the race card, and tell voters that there were things that threatened the position of the Malays,” she says.

For example, late on 13 July 2009, a day before polling, banners had appeared, chiding Nik Aziz for his role in leading PAS into an alliance with the DAP, a party that has been stridently opposed to an Islamic state in Malaysia. These presumably BN banners were the final salvo in a long campaign to question PAS’s Islamic credentials because of its ties with the PR.

A BN banner that reads: “Why should you love DAP? Is DAP more Islamic than Umno?”

Also a factor, according to Welsh, was the very fact that the Manik Urai by-election was deemed insignificant.

Chin agrees. “Manik Urai had no effect on national politics. At best, the by-election was a sideshow,” he says, adding that either outcome in the constituency would not have unravelled PAS’s control of the Kelantan government.

“Therefore, there was more space to take for themselves,” Welsh concludes. As the Manik Urai campaign progressed, reports surfaced about “gifts” delivered to families, and returnee voters receiving “transport allowance“.

Moreover, promises of development projects, such as Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin‘s pledge of a bridge between Manik Urai Lama and Manik Urai Baru, appeared to have worked. Both polling districts fell to the BN.

The bridge in question

Weaknesses in PR

In the end, all seem to agree that PAS’s performance in Manik Urai was indicative of weakness in the party — and in the PR coalition as a whole.

“I think as long as the rumours of unity talks do not die down and are not put down strongly by PAS, [especially] Hadi and Nasharuddin, it will remain a thorn in the side of the PR,” Ong says.

“The opposition is losing momentum,” agrees Welsh, who thinks that the opposition has ridden on its surprising gains in the last general election but has failed to redefine itself for a more significant role in Malaysian politics.

At the same time, she notes, “Umno has changed, to a certain degree,” especially with Datuk Seri Najib Razak as party president and the country’s prime minister.

Hence, the Manik Urai by-election is a wake-up call to the opposition. If it is to survive, it cannot rest on its winning streak since March 2008. It must transform itself. But what that transformation will be like remains to be seen.

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18 Responses to “PAS’s slim victory in Manik Urai”

  1. Azri says:

    Please correct your comment on the poster, “A BN banner that reads: “Your father (Nik Aziz) loves DAP? Is DAP more Islamic than Umno?””

    The banner actually translates into : “Why do you love DAP? is DAP more Islamic than UMNO? (Bakpo = Why, not “father”)

    Editor’s note: Thanks, another commenter also pointed that out. We have corrected the caption accordingly.

    Shanon Shah
    Columns and Comments Editor

  2. kwchap says:

    Ugutan itu berhasil la …

  3. Karcy says:

    Actually, I see this as the Malaysian community still being drawn along ethnic and religious lines, and in this case, ethno-religious lines.

    If anyone had been paying attention to Malay language forums, the blogosphere, and Malaysian Islamic forums, the conflation of Malay ethnicity and Islam is becoming stronger, not weaker. Nik Aziz may be a good Muslim, but he doesn’t work along racial lines, and the populace is still thinking in it. Islam is not the end goal, it is a means to strengthen the sense of identification, solidarity, and ultimately superiority of the concept of Ketuanan Melayu.

    This isn’t a one-off thing, it’s the mark of a new movement of neo-conservatism in the country. It’s a shield against elements in the country that many conservative youth are afraid of — secularism, vocal non-Muslims, apostasy, liberal Islam — and the fact that in their collective imagination, it is these that threaten Malay [Malaysian] rights, and not economic policies.

  4. armstrong says:

    Nik Aziz indeed is the factor that PAS won. Nasha and Hadi are the factors that PAS only won by 65 votes.

    They should have a house cleaning to remove Hadi and Nasha. What unity govt? United with Umno to screw the rakyat?

  5. ten sen norgay says:

    All we need now is ANOTHER by-election so that we can have confirmation if Umno/BN’s fortune is now changing. DS Najib/Muhyiddin, care to dissolve the Perak assembly and have a new circus?

  6. ikeda says:

    Several Pakatan leaders have become too arrogant after March 8. For example the CM of Penang, MB of Kedah, President of PAS, etc.

    After winning in the last election, their incompetence in running the state government is making their own supporters worry. Lim Guan Eng has especially shown his inability in solving problems and bad public relations work. He started by banning NST to cover his official activities. He has now learnt to bar NGOs and lawyers from representing the people with grievances.

    The Kedah and Selangor governments are involved in silly bickering among themselves. The worst one is the rumour about the impending removal of Khalid Ibrahim as Menteri Besar. Pakatan’s leadership seems to be out of control especially by Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim. Not only we expect the Pakatan Rakyat state governments to buck up, we also expect Anwar to play a more active role in leading the Pakatan Rakyat coalition.

  7. Maahanko says:

    A number of things to ponder

    a. The unity talks pushed by Umno, supported by recent special draws aimed at ‘winning over’ those who preferred money over principles, was merely to confuse those who were anti-BN. And nearly succeeded! PAS better decide now, if they want to continue allowing this unity talk thing to continue at the expense of the party’s popularity or if it still wants to continue with Pakatan Rakyat. Umno is not at all interested to partner PAS. Its main interest is to take away Malay [Malaysian] votes from PAS so that it has more bargaining power with other BN parties.

    b. ‘Aladdin and his magic lamp’ was very much alive at MU. Just see the ‘instant bridge’ carrot thrown at the simple people who are living a modest and honest life.
    That was too much. ‘Aladdin’ nearly got his wish, but GOD was greater! Tok Guru could see through this mess that was about to come and hence declared a public holiday for voters from outstation to come and cast their votes. Even the blogger ‘Sheih Kickdafella’ blogged of how two government officials tried to bring in two bags of goodies (votes?) to a counting center but were stopped by PAS officials. This is the extent of the ‘Aladdin’s’ preparation to win the election in a very ‘honest’ way.

    c. The ‘vote recount king’ was again up to his tricks, having won the general elections in 2008 and also a party youth leader elections this year. His style – recount, recount and recount. With every recount, the side he supports (including himself) gets more votes than the challenger. This time around, even during the recount, the majority for PAS was reduced, but unfortunately for the ‘recount king’ the votes simply did not favour his side. Just look out for this character in future elections. He will be there and will always ask for recounts.

    d. Even some online media started to fan out stories like ‘A loss for PAS will be good’ and ‘A win for either one is a win for both’. This storytelling did not happen overnight. Check reporting styles of such media for the past by-elections. Same trend! Why suddenly like this only when it is the last two days before by-elections? Prior to that it was always BN bashing? PR better be aware of this style now, before it is too late.

    Next by-election? Permatang Pauh (again?).
    Why not? Look at the way a case is being made out of a no-case!
    Get ready PR. Your candidate can be Datuk Zaid.

  8. Andrew I says:

    A win is still a win.

    Funny how the mainstream media prints this statement as a single paragraph without mentioning the fact that it was a quote.

    Perhaps the editors are too young to remember it as a quote.

  9. Rudy says:

    Bakpo is buat apa (what for) not bapa kamu (i.e. your father). Get your translation right.

    Editor’s note: Thanks for pointing this out. We have corrected the caption accordingly.

    Shanon Shah
    Columns and Comments Editor

  10. Nicholas Aw says:

    As the dust settles down, both sides would have to carry out a post-mortem. BN would have to find out why victory slipped from their grasp and PAS, why the carpet was almost pulled away under their feet.

    From comments made by BN big guns, they feel that the people are beginning to shift their support for them and that the 1Malaysia concept is on the right track. This assumption should not allow BN to rest on their laurels but push forward to ensure that they will be able to dominate and not only retain the federal government but recapture states lost in 2008. The PM should make sure that policies are fair and their implementation transparent.

    It is obvious that PAS almost lost due to internal bickering and at times, its “strained” relationship with its political partners in Pakatan Rakyat. Perhaps it should make it clear to its supporters that its relationship with KeADILan and DAP goes beyond a marriage of convenience. It should emphasise to its followers that Malaysia is a multi-racial country and that the people can live together with respect and dignity for each other. Supporting PR does not in any way make PAS un-Islamic. On the contrary Muslims will be able to accept the policies of PAS and non-Muslims will be able to co-exist in this land of milk and honey.

    In Kelantan I was told that despite being a Muslim majority, the other races are able to co-exist in peace. However, PAS should not take for granted that its policies are totally acceptable to non-Muslim Malaysians. Perhaps these non-Muslims feel that it is better to be ruled by the lesser of two evils. A PAS government allows the non-Muslim businesses to continue hand-in-hand with the Muslims’ whereas a BN government could be alleged to bring in cronyism and corruption.

  11. jeagerlange says:

    The slim majority won by PAS is a grim reminder to the president and his deputy that they should not take the people for granted. The people have not forgotten their act of betrayal after the recent General Election where they had secret meetings with the BN behind the backs of the very people who voted them. This is a lesson serving them right which hopefully (wishfully?) they have learnt, otherwise it is better to give the vote to the BN than to these “religious” people. Another “unity” government? Their faces do not reflect any Sincerity, Trustworthiness, and Truthfulness. Get rid of them (the president and his deputy) before they betray the people and the party again in the coming GE.

  12. siburpat says:

    Well, it could be the beginning of an end for PAS as they want to Umno-ise themselves. Is it really the rejection of Nik Aziz, the spiritual advisor or Hadi Awang, the President and his deputy, the “Umno cuddlers”?

    Can PAS win Kelantan without Nik Aziz? In fact, Hadi and his deputy ought to resign immediately and they should join Umno directly to save PAS from destruction. In fact, it maybe worthwhile for PKR to pose as an alternative to takeover the Malay heartland after the Nik Aziz period.

    After all, Hadi had won Terengganu for one term but lost the state to the BN the following election, and [has not managed to recapture it since]. In fact I am surprised how PAS delegates elect an leader who could not win his own state.

    The narrow win by PAS in Manik Urai is actually great for Najib and BN though as PAS leaders are not as smart as them as well as the PKR and DAP who prefer to fight and blame one another instead of working with each other to topple the BN from the federal level come the next general elections. When will they wake up to realize that BN is not an easy opponent to run over? Maybe the voters were also fed up about the arrogance of PAS leaders?

    PR leaders should also stop talking about nepotism, corruption, etc as they are supporting BN indirectly by not being able to work as a team to become a real ALTERNATIVE TO BN.

  13. Doubter says:

    I hear a lot of money changed hands. Is that the real reason Umno got so close? How come this article did not explore that part of the equation?

  14. stk says:

    The PAS president and youth leader are so stupid that they walked right into Umno’s trap.The logic is simple. Umno just has to stir up some discontent among the PAS members. There is nothing Umno and PAS have in common except the foolish PAS leaders with power in their heads. Nik Aziz has already warned that history is about repeat itself when PAS joined the Alliance decades ago.

  15. Eric says:


    with all due respect, if you’d been to Manek Urai, you’d have seen PAS leaders like Nik Aziz and Salahuddin Ayub speaking about multiracialism to a near 100% Malay Malaysian crowd during MU’s ceramah. This convinced me that, at least, some PAS leaders are really sincere about bringing Malaysians together, especially in contrast with Umno leaders.

  16. Eric says:


    And by the way, are you sure English or Chinese language forums are getting any better?

  17. Karcy says:


    I can’t read Chinese. Yes, I read English-language forums.

    I don’t doubt that PAS’s leadership, especially under Nik Aziz, is committed to multiracial harmony and the end of racial discrimination. That was my point. But a lot of PAS’s *supporters* see PAS as a means of fighting for Malay-Muslim rights, and the separation between ethnicity and religion is not that big.

    For those who were against the unity talks, the fact that it was entertained showed PAS having trouble in its leadership ranks. For the ones who supported PAS’s unity talk with Umno, Nik Aziz’s refusal to unite with Umno for the benefit of the Malay Malaysian community was an act of senility. Either way, both contributed to dissatisfaction with PAS — I just think that, across the country, the latter is a bigger and more influential group than most are inclined to think.

  18. Chi pek kau says:

    This result in Manik Urai shows how smart the Kelantanese people are. They give BN a cheap thrill in this by-election because the election money wagon from BN was not big enough. So in text GE BN has to bring a bigger money wagon to this area to win.
    Then what will happen is that BN will have a bigger loss in the margin. Hahaha. Smart eh.

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